I always loved the warning “be careful what you wish for.” We so often think we know what we want, but then, if we actually get it or are set on a path to get it, we realize it isn’t what we expected. Reality rarely matches the fantasy or expectation. It doesn’t mean we should never wish, hope or dream, but we should be careful. We should make sure what we’re wishing, hoping or dreaming is what we truly want.
The demons were coming at me hard this past week. I was in a low place and questioning what I wanted. As icing on the cake, Teacher had to cancel both of my regular standing lessons and schedule a double on Saturday morning instead. I still got the same amount of lesson time, but there was no dance in the middle of the week to provide relief or escape.
Thursday marked exactly two weeks until I compete at Embassy Ball. I didn’t feel excited or even nervous. I wasn’t feeling much at all thanks to the bout of depression I was caught in. Instead, I thought about what I would do after the comp. I suspected that I needed a break. From everything really, as I was also still working a lot of overtime for the day job. I thought maybe Embassy should be my last comp for the year, even if I find later that I could fund one more. I should try to save some money and pay off more debt. Maybe I should even take a break from dancing altogether.
These thoughts floated around my head all week. I didn’t focus on them, but they kept rising to the surface at random moments. Why was I doing this? Maybe I’m not meant for it. It’d be easier to just go to work and go home every day.
The fact that I couldn’t motivate myself to practice either didn’t help. Every night I told myself I needed to do something, just a little. Do some technique drills in the kitchen. Review choreography. Just watch my videos while laying on the couch! I didn’t do any of it. I thought if I wasn’t willing to work on my dancing, maybe it’s not what I really want.
I managed to complete a 5-day challenge for my blog this past week. You saw those posts if you follow me on social media. But if I’m honest, my heart wasn’t 100% in it. The goal of the challenge was to gain clarity on my brand, what it stood for, and what it provided to others. I’m not sure how well I completed that goal, and I thought maybe I’m not supposed to have a “brand.”
I did have a lightbulb moment though. One of the days’ prompts was naming my super power. Naturally, during this kind of week, I thought it was absurd. I didn’t have any “super powers.” I was good to ok at what I did, but not super.
Finally, I recognized these thoughts weren’t my own. These thoughts were little bits of poison spat out by my depression and splattered across my brain. I decided my super power was doing exactly what I’m doing now – using those bits of poison as tools in my writing to hopefully inspire and motivate others.
Saturday’s double lesson started at 9am. This wouldn’t normally be considered early for me since I get up at 5am during the work week. But this was Saturday. Come on! I tried to go to bed early enough to get more sleep anyway, but woke up twice during the night. I was getting up for dance though, so I still felt slightly better than I had the rest of the week.
I was the first one to the studio, even beat Teacher there. It was nice to be in that space alone and get to be the first dancer of the day. It was peaceful.
Teacher thought he would surprise me by starting our lesson off with two rounds. I was all for it. It had been a week since I last danced, so to get to just dance through eight songs sounded perfect. The first round was a warm-up danced in practice hold and then the second round was supposed to be full out. As a bonus, Teacher had us do jumping jacks, running in place, high kicks or jumping squats in between each dance of the second round. Again, I think he thought he would catch me off guard, but I was happy to do it. I hadn’t been exercising much during the past week either.
The rest of the lesson went well. Teacher made it very collaborative, asking me what stood out in each dance and what I wanted to address before sharing what he thought. He also gave me a specific outline for homework to help me practice, even down to how much time I should spend on each item. We ended with another round with more exercises in between each dance. I wish I would have gotten one of those rounds on video to show you guys! If you feel like stamina is one of your problems at competition, try adding an exercise like the ones we did in between dances when you do practice rounds.
While I was at the studio, I heard a story about a student complaining about being pushed so hard by a teacher, and the teacher’s response was that the student had asked to be pushed hard! It got me thinking.
I had questioned why I was dancing and why I was competing. If I wasn’t able to make myself practice, then maybe I didn’t want it badly enough. But when Teacher threw in extra exercises during our rounds, I didn’t groan or complain that it was too early. I was right there running in place after tango ended and until the foxtrot music started. When he gave me specific instructions for practice, I didn’t roll my eyes at the extra work. I felt motivated.
I had the right wish when I chose dance. I didn’t make a mistake there. I was ready to work for it too; Saturday’s lesson was a great example of that. But how I worked for it needed to be reexamined. I keep trying to make myself take this path that others have taken and has been romanticized in my head. It’s that “don’t stop, no excuses, just do it” path that is montaged in commercials and movies about underdog athletes. You see flashes of the character sweating as they repeat a move over and over for hours (we assume), and then bending over exhausted in the empty gym or studio, and then straightening up to do it all again. Some kind of high energy, motivational musical score is playing that seems to push the character along, even when they feel like they’re about to collapse. That’s what you’re supposed to do, right? If you want to be the best, you have to push yourself until you’re about to break and then push yourself harder.
I’m learning that I burn out real quick when I try to push myself that hard every day, especially when I try to do it alone. I need downtime, and I still need some external motivation and encouragement from someone on the journey with me. I need to know I’m not alone. So when Teacher and I dance foxtrot and then he tells me to do a set of jumping squats before we go into Viennese, I have no problem. I’m not alone; he’s there doing them with me.
Unfortunately, my situation is not ideal. My dance partner, a.k.a. Teacher, can’t be there to practice with me or do extra exercises outside of lesson time. Story of a pro-am’s life. I need to be able to motivate myself to do the additional work necessary to become a better dancer. I want to do that work. But forcing myself to “rise and grind” every day, or else be considered lazy, doesn’t seem to be a good solution for someone prone to burn-out and bouts of depression. So what to do? A less black-and-white solution may be in order.
I’m not sure what exactly that will look like yet. I just know what I’m going to practice before my next lesson. Honestly, I think I’m going to have to be prepared to change what the solution looks like as I go through my mental/emotional peaks and valleys. How I motivate myself when I’m depressed is going to be very different from how I motivate myself when I’m not.
The cool thing is the destination can remain the same while I try different paths to get there. As I work, I will get stronger too and that will also spur adjustment. Even on Saturday, Teacher commented about my ability to keep up with him in the exercises and maintain a similar breathing rate. I didn’t even break much of a sweat. So even if I’m not pushing myself to work out for hours every day, the little bit of additional exercise I’ve incorporated is making a difference. My stamina has improved.
I know whatever path I take, it won’t always be easy and it shouldn’t be. I’m growing and changing, which means moving outside of my comfort zone and that’s definitely not easy. The path I choose needs to be effective though.
I hope I made some semblance of sense tonight. It’s a little harder to be concise when I’m still processing my thoughts and working toward a solution, as opposed to having one already that I can share with you. I think the bottom line is I need to keep trying to find what works best for me and also be prepared for that to change repeatedly.